The Charlotte Observer Q&A: Wake Forest Law dean on what same-sex marriage ruling means for N.C.

Photo of Dean Suzanne Reynolds (JD '77) in Worrell Professional Center library

The Charlotte Observer’s Tim Funk spoke to Dean Suzanne Reynolds to clarify just what does Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling mean for North Carolina? Does the decision affect magistrates who may cite religious objections to refuse to marry same-sex couples? And will gays and lesbians who marry their partners enjoy the same benefits and rights as other married couples?

The Observer asked Reynolds of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. Not only is she the dean of the university’s law school, she is also a noted family law professor who has written a three-volume treatise on North Carolina family law that is widely used by judges, attorneys and law students.

The Wake Forest University School of Law has been a popular stop for U.S. Supreme Court justices in recent years. Students there have been addressed by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Clarence Thomas and former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Here’s a Q&A with Reynolds about the ramifications of Friday’s ruling.

Q. What effect, if any, will Friday’s ruling have on North Carolina’s new law allowing magistrates to refuse to marry same-sex couples if they have a religious objection?

A. It doesn’t invalidate the magistrate law. It does suggest that when it is challenged (in court) it’ll be found unconstitutional. On a number of grounds. One is that it burdens the exercise of a fundamental right without a rational justification. The 14th Amendment requires a rational justification. And this ruling suggests the (magistrate) law is irrational.

Q. What about the impact on proposed “Religious Liberty” laws that, for example, might say a baker doesn’t have to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple?

A. As with the magistrate legislation, this opinion doesn’t directly address these so-called religious freedom acts. It does suggest that, likewise, they will not pass constitutional scrutiny. Because the discriminatory purpose of these religious freedom acts are all the more apparent. They are burdening a fundamental right.

Q. But will say, Baptist and Catholic clergy whose churches define marriage as between a man and a woman, possibly be forced to marry same-sex couples in their sanctuaries?

A. Nothing in this opinion prevents a faith tradition from continuing to teach these tenets. (Clergy) are very different from magistrates, who are civil servants and public officials.

Q. Does the ruling ensure that same-sex couples who married in North Carolina and elsewhere will have the same benefits and rights as different-sex married couples?

A. All the benefits of marriage will flow to same-sex couples. There will be no difference between them and (different-sex married couples) when it comes to thousands of federal and state benefits. Including the right to adopt as a couple.

Q. So in North Carolina, the Supreme Court’s ruling will simply continue what’s been the status quo since last October, when same-sex couples started legally marrying here?

A. The (U.S.) Fourth Circuit (court in Richmond) had already declared that the North Carolina constitutional amendment (Amendment One) to affirm marriage as between a man and a woman was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has now said that the Fourth Circuit was right.

Q. What will happen if state judges, as happened in Alabama, tell local officials to ignore these federal rulings and not marry same-sex couples?

A. It would be unfortunate if they do. They’re just bringing chaos to their states. Litigation will eventually settle it if they refuse to show support for the judicial process.

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